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The Middle East Muddle: Is Peace Still Possible?

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The run-up to the impending war against Iran -- and make no mistake, the foundations are being laid daily by the Bush Administration -- bears a remarkable resemblance to the propaganda barrage before the U.S. attacked Iraq: Iran is the repository of all things evil, they will destabilize the region if they get nukes, they support terrorists, the U.N. and international community can't wait until there are mushroom clouds in the sky, etc. etc. All that's missing is an invented tie-in with 9/11.

Because of the thorough botch the Bush Administration has made of the Iraq Occupation, and because there are no extra U.S. troops to go around, it's a reasonable presumption that there will be no ground invasion of Iran. Instead, following passage of some ambiguously-worded U.N. Security Council resolution, there might well be a U.S.-Israeli air-bombing/missile assault on that country's nuclear facilities. (The experts tell us that Iran won't have nuclear-weapons capability for anywhere from three to 10 years out -- in short, there is no imminent threat to the U.S. or anyone else.)

The reaction by Iran and other Islamic countries to such an air assault is likely to be intense, perhaps including retaliatory attacks on Israel, and damaging the American and European economies by withdrawing oil sales to the West or blocking ships from entering the Straits of Hormuz into the Persian Gulf. And, of course, one can anticipate that the Bush Administration -- unless the impending attack can be stopped in its tracks by popular opposition -- will be caught flat-footed (again!) by its usual lack of planning for the unforeseen consequences of its wars.

But rather than focus on what is about to go down in Iran, the chaotic disaster that the Bush Administration's attack on and inept occupation of Iraq has led to, or even the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, I'd like to propose an examination of the Middle East situation since it serves as the kindling for the firestorms that sweep the entire region.

Hamas is now on the inside of the halls of power, Israel is about to choose its new leaders, and the situation is encouragingly fluid, with a tenuous truce in major fighting between the two sides. Thus, this is an especially propitious time for all parties to reflect and meditate on how, or even whether, a just solution is still possible, and what such a Middle East peace might mean for the entire region.

THE MEDIEVAL ISLAMISTS


A resurrected holy Muslim empire has been the dream for many decades of a segment of the Islamic religion. Or if that dream is unrealizable, at least their desire to be left alone, outside the distractions and decadent temptations of the 21st century, to implement their strict version of the Koran.

Regardless of what the U.S. does, that Islamist resurgence is bound to occur, even, or especially, amidst a more widespread Islam that is willing to exist side by side with Western modernity and tolerance.

But certainly the harsh treatment for nearly 60 years of Palestinians by Israel, a nation supported by the U.S., has been a spur to the growth of that fanatic Islamist movement in the Middle East.

U.S. NEGLECT OF THE REGION

On the surface, American policy in the region appears to make no sense. It seems clear that if the U.S. is after a calmer Arab Middle East, and with it a stable flow of oil to America and Europe, its first order of business, one would think, would be to ensure a just peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, so as to tamp down the fire that endangers so much in that region.

But under both Democratic and Republican presidents, the status quo has been left to fester, partially because intervening in this convoluted, passionate dispute rarely pays off for the U.S. and often leads to embarrassing failures. And so Israel, America's lone dependable ally in the region, is blindly supported by U.S. administrations, no matter what its leaders do. The Palestinians are teased with words about a coming Palestinian state, but nothing much really happens from the U.S. end.

While Carter and Clinton at least tried to bring the parties together, and actually were starting to accomplish something, the Bush Administration promises much and delivers little, and is unwilling to use its leverage to get its ally Israel to make the concessions it will have to make for a lasting peace.

WHY SHOULD U.S. WORK FOR PEACE?

The well-armed Israelis feel insecure, the powerless Palestinians feel humiliated and brutalized, thousands die, terrorism grows in this atmosphere -- and not much changes, decade after decade. And, from the point of view of America's political leaders, why should it be changed? The oil keeps flowing, so why would any U.S. administration risk touching this dangerous third-rail of international politics?

How about because it's the right thing to do? How about because the Middle East would be stabilized? How about because Islamist terrorism would lose one of its most potent recruiting arguments? How about because the U.S. would regain much of the positive prestige it has lost as a result of Bush's wars against Muslim countries?

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Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at universities in California and Washington, worked for two decades as a writer-editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers (more...)
 

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